The bill calls on Oregon's governor to ensure the Guard is only used in the presence of a "valid congressional enactment consistent with the Constitution of the United States of America."

A bipartisan effort led by a Southern Oregon Republican and a Portland Democrat could give the state more power in governing whether its National Guard is deployed to wars.

State Reps. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and Chip Shields, D-Portland, have co-sponsored an amendment to HB 2556 that clarifies that future deployments by the U.S. president of state-organized militia, including the Oregon Guard, must adhere to existing law and the U.S. constitution.

The bill calls on Oregon's governor to ensure the Guard is only used in the presence of a "valid congressional enactment consistent with the Constitution of the United States of America."

"The Constitution gives only Congress the authority to declare war," said Richardson, who served as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

"If the new president, a constitutional scholar, wants to use Oregon's National Guard, he should only do so pursuant to a valid congressional resolution," he added. "The Oregon National Guard should not be treated like the private army of any U.S. president."

"This is the most important issue of our time: how and when to send our National Guard members into war," Shields said.

The legislation would not affect the Guard's current deployment, which includes 605 citizen-soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry, headquartered in Ashland. The 1/186th is part of the Oregon Guard's Tigard-based 41st Infantry Combat Brigade Team, which is sending 2,600 troops from Oregon and more than 650 troops from other states to Iraq.

The soldiers were deployed Monday to Fort Stewart, Ga., where they will undergo advanced training, then be sent to Kuwait for two weeks before arriving in Iraq in July. The unit, which includes about 150 from Jackson and Josephine counties, will not return to Oregon before heading overseas.

Roughly 60 percent of those deploying already have done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan after being deployed by the previous administration, according to the National Guard.

Oregon is one of 23 states where efforts are under way to clarify that governors have the authority to inspect federal orders to ensure they are lawful before releasing their state militias to federal service. Of those, a dozen have introduced legislation similar to the one being debated in Oregon.

"We believe we have the commitments for enough votes to have it passed," Shields said of a House vote, although noting there is no date set yet for a vote on bill.

However, if it does pass the Legislature, it's likely it would be tested in court, he said.

"We have a kind of authorized war on terror that could go on forever," he said. "We would be arguing in court that those resolutions are invalid. We are calling on Congress to do its job.

"It's not a matter of how we feel about the war," he added. "We all support our Guard men and women. This is all about the Constitution."

In an earlier interview, Richardson also stressed the issue is about whether state militias can be used for military engagements on foreign soil.

The state militia shouldn't be used as though it's an extension of the regular military, he said, adding that he has high regard for the abilities of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

The Guard should be used for domestic emergencies, he said.

A petition circulated by those supporting the Campaign to Keep Oregon's Guard in Oregon has some 7,200 signatures, said Dan Handelman, spokesman for the Portland-based Peace and Justice Works group.

"It was signed by people from every county in the state," he said. "We have support in both the Democrat and Republican parties. We have a lot of bipartisan support."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.